Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Tag: Social Media (page 3 of 3)

Want to Build Your Personal Brand? Be Yourself and Use Common Sense

I’ve read several articles recently that talk about a “personal brand” and how folks should mind their social stores. Everyone has advice or their opinions, but, honestly, I think people’s social faces are going to be as different as their physical ones.

From my perspective, the bottom line with social media and “personal brands” is this: as in life, you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want. Whether you want to be chatty, observational, opinionated, reclusive, or just listen in, it’s up to you. Your followers, friends, etc. will be shaped by your actions (or lack thereof). There’s no true “right way” to manage your personal brand in the social web; stick with how you manage your day-to-day affairs and you should turn out fine.

I’ve been thinking of social media as your personal TV channel with its own unique programming, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. A better analogy would be a street performer. You have a talent to show off, knowledge to share, a skill to demonstrate, or something to talk about. People who notice you, whether it’s by happenstance or referral, become your audience. If they like what they see, hear, or learn, they stick around. If not, they move on. Your voice and your performance space are only limited by the audience you attract.

Of course, running a subset of your life on the web doesn’t mean you’re free of cause and consequence. Don’t want to make enemies? Stay away from lies, aggression, and inflammatory comments. Don’t want to get fired? Don’t disparage your coworkers, employer, their line of business, or yourself (by making ribald jests, posting incriminating photos, etc.). Don’t want to reveal too much about yourself? Tell social networks only what you want them to know.

Be yourself. Use common sense. Authenticity tempered with good judgment will do wonders for your brand.

Using Hashtags to Win Friends and Influence Others

One of the most useful aspects of Twitter are hashtags. Effective and clever use of hashtags can really make Twitter’s role as an information aggregator shine, and can also be used to spread your messages to a larger audience. While simple in concept, hashtags can often stump relatively new users or clients seeking to use Twitter for business purposes.

What’s a Hashtag?

A hashtag is a way to join common topics together in Twitter. You enter the hash mark (#) before a word or phrase to create the keyword; omit spaces or replace them with underscores to grab the entire phrase. The hashtag then becomes “clickable”: Twitter users who click on a hashtag will see a real-time stream of everyone who’s used it in their posts.

Hashtags are commonly used for events and online discussions or chats. Whoever organizes the event or chat will assign a hashtag in advance for use by the participants. This insures that anyone who wants to join in will be heard in the ongoing conversation (for some recent, good examples, look up #twtrcon or #uiewamt). You’ll often notice that your followers will increase after participating in these types of chats (just don’t post for that purpose alone; be informative, helpful, and polite).

Hashtags are also useful for joining together communities of interest. If you tweet something about user experience, for example, your messages will only reach your followers (unless they decide to retweet you, of course). But adding the hashtag “#ux” will carry your message to anyone tuning into that discussion, which can often be a much broader audience. In addition, by following community of interest discussions yourself, you’re likely to come across helpful and valuable sources of information. It’s also a great way to make new connections with folks who share your passions.

How Do I Use a Hashtag?

The most effective way to use a hashtag is to find one that’s already in use; that way, you’re confident that your messages will find their way into existing conversations. Go to Twitter’s search page and enter a sample term to see whether it turns up any results. There may be more than one term for a specific topic (such as “#ff” and “#followfriday”). If you’re at an event, check with the coordinators to see whether an official hashtag has been assigned.

If you’re thinking of creating a new hashtag for a business purpose, make certain it will have common, consistent, and frequent use by any accounts managed by your organization. It’s important to check whether your chosen hashtag is already in use to avoid confusion.

Some users will make up their own hashtags for a whimsical or clever purpose. Foes of the font Comic Sans (myself included) will occasionally post using the hashtag “#deathtocomicsans”. Social media luminary and frequent traveler Olivier Blanchard (also known as The Brand Builder) uses “#WhereisTBB” to let his audience know his location when on the road. These may be less practical, but they’re often a lot of fun.

Best Practices for Using Hashtags

When using hashtags, be mindful of some etiquette rules that have been established:

  • Choose wisely: Don’t use more than three of four hashtags in one post; not only is this a technique of spammers, it also reduces the length of your message (make clever use of all 140 of those characters!).
  • Stay on topic: Don’t use hashtags for unrelated posts. During the Iran election protests last year, the hashtag “#iranelection” was used, where it resided as one of the top 10 trending topics for several months. An intern at a British furniture store capitalized on this hashtag’s popularity by using it in their Twitter promotions, and they were promptly slammed for this tactic.
  • Don’t overshare. It’s one thing to be a chatterbox in your own feed, but when you join a hashtag conversation, you’re adding your voice to others who don’t normally follow you. Don’t irritate your new neighbors by posting too frequently. If you’re not sure how much is too much, see how often others are posting and use that as a guide.

Counseling Your Clients About Twitter Use in the Enterprise

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed increased interest in standing up Twitter accounts for in-house corporate events where I work. As a local evangelist of Twitter, I’m pleased to see more visibility for this channel as a serious communication tool. At the same time, I’m concerned that clients don’t understand some of the risks of Twitter use in the enterprise and are wading into murky waters.

From my perspective, there are three risks clients should be counseled about whenever they approach you about Twitter for use in-house: content strategy, code of conduct, and internal security.

You need to have your clients think hard about their content strategy. Why are they using Twitter for this purpose (instead of other in-house networking tools)? What are their expectations? What are their goals? Do they want to engage or simply inform? What is the nature of the material that would be shared? How will the event and its presence on Twitter be marketed internally? Your clients also need to have someone (or more than one, if that’s possible) manning the feed who understands the topics of the event and can respond to questions, comments, and overall feedback in a timely fashion. You don’t want to promote use of Twitter and have no one tuning in, offer paltry content, or leave comments unanswered.

For many organizations, code of conduct dictates how employees are expected to use or avoid use of online forums, which includes social media channels. There’s always a legal angle here. If your goal is to throw up an internal Twitter account and expect employees to connect and converse with this feed, you need to think twice about you go about this. Folks who are new to Twitter or limited in their expertise may not understand how far their messages can reach. You don’t want to unwittingly get folks in trouble with your legal department just because they wanted to play along. Err on the side of caution and talk to your legal folks for their verdict. Involve the client so they can understand, too.

Let’s move to internal security. First and foremost is the illusion of privacy within Twitter, which I wrote about in more detail in a previous post. I can’t stress to clients enough that simply locking down a feed isn’t sufficient to keep the information they want to share within the organization. Plus, a locked-down feed can be a barrier to employees who are new to Twitter: the large yellow box and lock icon don’t exactly evoke feelings of openness. Then, there’s sensitivity of content. If you invite outside speakers to present at an in-house event, for example, as long as they keep the discussions based on their industry expertise vs. something tailored to your business, you should be OK posting highlights from the presentation. The slope becomes slippery for panelists or speakers from within the organization. Consider carefully whether their topics would stir up trouble for your organization’s reputation or bottom line if released to the general public. Now, of course, the folks manning the in-house Twitter feed could keep the tweets generic or simply avoid commentary on those sessions altogether, but the value gained by having the feed in the first place would be lost.

So, what about enterprise microblogging tools like Yammer? Well, that’s a great solution because everything stays within the organization: posts are limited strictly to employees of the organization and encryption is provided, which eliminates both the code of conduct and internal security risks. However, Yammer is not as well known (at least in my personal experience) and requires a more official process to get off the ground; anyone can get a Twitter account up and running within minutes. Still, I believe it’s a worthy effort to consider if you or your clients intend on using this type of channel for more internally-focused purposes in the long run.

Backing Away From Milestones

One of the basic key metrics of Twitter is the number of followers you have. It’s generally interpreted to indicate how much reach you have in your messages, and folks often like to announce when they’ve reached a certain milestone (“We now have over 1000 followers! Thanks for your support!”). I’ve been on the verge of several “milestones” with my account (100, then 150, now 200), but I keep backing away from them each time. Why? Because I value quality much more than quantity.

In your travels on Twitter, you’ll snag followers for several reasons. You have great content to share. You make a connection, and they pass you along to their followers. You get recommended. You get followed because of specific keywords in your tweets. Spammers really like you. Oh, and don’t forget the porn. The numbers start to add up. Before long, if you’re lucky, you’ll reach a “milestone”.

But what does that really mean to you? Is each and every one of those accounts actually listening to you? How many do you regularly engage with? Once you take a more critical eye to your roster, you get a picture of how your online relationships are shaped. And a good percentage of them are garbage.

I regularly prune my followers. Irrelevant keyword matches? Blocked. Obvious product promotions? Blocked. Offers to make me money or grant me more followers? Blocked. Dead or inactive accounts? Blocked.

It’s not that I don’t want these accounts to follow me; I could care less about which of my posts they read. It’s simply this: I want to know that I’m being followed for a reason. That my words and thoughts are being heard by folks who actively, purposely decided to follow me. This way, when I look over the numbers, I can truly see how much of an effect I’m having in my small corner of the Twitterverse. Call it narcissism or whatever you want; I want quality, and I’m going to get it.

Some Thoughts on Facebook and its Underlying Psychology

I’ve had a very interesting and insightful discussion with my wife over the past few days about Facebook and its use of psychology. Not necessarily in how it’s redefining social interactions (that’s a well-trodden topic), but in its use of terms (words and their definitions).

Let me start by elaborating how I’ve been using Facebook and how we came to have this discussion in the first place.

When I started using Facebook in November, I made some decisions about who I would connect with. If someone was an acquaintance of mine in college that I knew casually through a student organization, if I had only met them once or twice 10 years ago, or if they were a co-worker that I really didn’t feel like adding to my friends roster, their invites would get ignored. It seemed like a safe strategy: Facebook calmly assures you in its FAQs that an ignored friend invitation won’t be seen by the person who sent it (although they can figure it out with subtle clues, like noticing that you have the “Add As Friend” button again vs. the “Friend Request Pending” note when they look you up in a mutual friend’s list). So, I arrived with the expectation that, hey, it’s my network and my choice, so there should be no guilt or indecision involved; end of story. It’s only Facebook, after all. This should be cut and dry.

Not so fast. First, there were the co-workers. As you may have noticed, once your organization is off for a holiday, everyone jumps on Facebook to see who else is there. Since I decided to connect with a few colleagues I know pretty well (and actually associate with outside the office), the co-workers they’re mutually friends with started sending requests to be my “friend”.  There are plenty of articles out there that talk about Facebook etiquette with co-workers (aside from the obvious “don’t be friends with your boss”) and how to deftly handle their peals to be your “friend”. I hesitated with a few of the requests, but quickly came back to my initial decisions and moved along.

Then, an old friend from college with whom I had a rather nasty ending many years ago asked to be my “friend”. I had been expecting this ever since I arrived on Facebook; a very good (in real life) friend of mine still talks with them on a regular basis. First, I got the “poke” from them (which I’m not sure if this is truly meant to be as annoying as it sounds). When someone “pokes” you, it’s a very small notice off to the side. Hiding a poke is a simple decision with no consequences. However, after posting a comment in my (in real life) friend’s feed, I got the request, which I had been secretly dreading.

Dreading? That was an unexpected reaction. I thought perhaps that this feeling was because of our history (our falling out took place at a turning point in my life). My wife was annoyed by my inconsistency: if this person and I had our “breakup” years ago, why was I agonizing over being their “friend” on Facebook? Shouldn’t it have been a simple decision? I even made the absurd statement that I should talk to my (in real life) friend to ask what they thought I should do, to which my wife replied, “It’s friggin’ Facebook!”

What was I thinking? This sounds like a scene from a sitcom, for Heaven’s sake.

My wife blames Facebook’s use of terminology: how everyone is your “friend”, how you have to make the decision to “accept” or “ignore” invites, and the associated perceptions behind that (“what will So-and-So think if I ignore their friend request?”). In her mind, Facebook is well aware of the loaded connotations those words carry, and is actively employing psychology to attract users and keep them active within the network.

I really hadn’t considered this aspect before. My first love in social media is Twitter, which is far more informal in its connections and interactions. Other networks, such as LinkedIn, seem to have a pretty clear or specific purpose why you’re there in the first place. I never gave a second thought to who I was tied to in either network. My wife’s clear insight (she’s a very light Facebook user who sparingly posts) inspired me to give these relationships closer examination.

Think about it. Look at all the folks you have as Facebook friends right now. Who are they? If you looked at each and every one carefully, are they really all “friends” in the true sense? What you most likely have is a collection of friends, relatives, acquaintances, professional contacts, old classmates, co-workers, lovers, former lovers, your spouse, etc. They are not all friends (well, hopefully your spouse is your friend).

Of course, you can make lists, call them whatever you want, and add folks to them, but Facebook still refers to them as “friends”. They are your “friend”, you both have “mutual friends”, you probably found them on someone else’s “friend list”, and Facebook constantly suggests other “friends” for you.

You see the faces of your “friends” (or avatars, which are still personal in nature) alongside their name whenever they appear in your feed (I know you can hide folks in your feed, but if you’re doing that, why be their “friend” in the first place?). People unconsciously respond to faces; in print and web design, showing faces increases the humanity, personality, and connection with the service or product being offered. Even if you’re not actively connected to someone in your day-to-day relationships, seeing their name and face paired together on Facebook can be the trigger that makes you click the “Add As Friend” button.

To top it all off, there’s that dreaded decision to “accept” or “ignore” new friend requests. We don’t want to be seen as a jerk or curmudgeon, do we? The requests can elicit an emotional reaction when there’s a shared history, as I experienced. It must not be such an existential struggle for everyone, though: there’s statistics about how frequently people accept friend requests from folks they’ve never even met, simply because that request was made in the first place.

This is all getting very personal, isn’t it? The terms used by Facebook add a level of intimacy to these relationships that very likely didn’t exist in your life. We all like to have friends, but becoming someone’s friend (as opposed to an acquaintance or co-worker) adds layers of social context. Most, if not all of us, crave acceptance and resent being ignored. We know how these experiences feel, but they don’t all exist at the same level with everyone we know.

I don’t hate Facebook for doing all of this; it is their business model, after all, and they know exactly what they’re doing. I’m glad the discussion with my wife made me take a step back and become more aware of what happens in our minds when we interact with social networks. This understanding is vitally important, not only from a professional standpoint (which channel should our business use to connect with our customers?), but from a personal one as well (why am I making such a big deal about a friend request, anyway?).

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it a valid viewpoint or a useless mind exercise? Oh, and please don’t be offended if I ignore your friend request on Facebook; it’s nothing personal.

Update (April 23, 2010): I noticed today that Facebook changed some language in their e-mail notices for friend requests. They used to say “John Smith has added you as a friend on Facebook”; now they say “John Smith wants to be friends on Facebook”. I never quite agreed with the earlier version; it always made it seem like the request was being made against your will. This simple change now gives you the impression that you’re being asked for permission; that you’re more in control of the request. I approve of this, as it’s more accurate of the exchange that’s taking place. It goes to show you how mindful Facebook is of the power words and phrases carry, and I’m curious to see what else they change with their recent announcements on personalization across the web.

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